Capitol returning to normal day after intruder is shot

Police and EMS personnel transport the person believed to be the gunman away from the shooting scene at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on March 28, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The U.S. Capitol complex was set to return to normal Tuesday, a day after police say officers shot and wounded a man who pulled a weapon at a security checkpoint as he entered the underground Capitol Visitor Center.

Capitol Police identified the man as 66-year-old Larry R. Dawson of Tennessee. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer while armed. Dawson was taken to a local hospital and underwent surgery. Late Monday, police said he was in stable but critical condition.

Dawson disrupted a House session last October by yelling he was a "Prophet of God." He was issued a "stay away order" by the District of Columbia Superior Court that same month that required him to avoid the Capitol grounds, court documents show.

Monday's incident, in which a bystander was slightly wounded, occurred at the tourists' entry point to a building that had heightened security even before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has had periodic scares ever since.

With last week's suicide attacks in Brussels, Belgium, that killed 35 people fresh on people's minds, Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa held a brief news conference at which he preliminarily ruled out terrorism.

"We do believe this is an act of a single person who has frequented the Capitol grounds before and there is no reason to believe that this is anything more than a criminal act," Verderosa, who became chief this month after about three decades on the force, told reporters.

The chief said he did not know how many officers had fired at the suspect. He also said no officers were injured, after initial erroneous reports that one had been hurt.

Verderosa said a weapon he did not describe had been recovered at the scene and the suspect's vehicle had been found on the Capitol grounds and would be seized.

He also said a female bystander suffered minor injuries. Later Monday, spokeswoman Susan Griffiths of George Washington University Hospital said that hospital was about to release a patient it had treated for minor injuries and whom it did not identify.

Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, said that after Dawson's October arrest, he did not appear in court as scheduled the following month. Miller said a bench warrant was issued for his arrest and in January. Dawson wrote the court a letter in which he claimed to be exempt from laws because he is a prophet of God.

"No longer will I let myself be governed by flesh and blood, but only by the Divine Love of God," he wrote, adding four exclamation points.

Other court paperwork said Dawson said he was previously in the Army and was honorably discharged in 1971.

An attorney listed as representing him in the case from October, John Copacino, did not immediately return a telephone message and an e-mail requesting comment Monday afternoon.

Records show Dawson was previously licensed in Tennessee to work as a funeral director. After his license expired in 2004, the state's Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers voted three times to deny requests from Dawson to reinstate his license, citing the "applicant's lack of good moral character."

Kevin Walters, a spokesman for the state funeral board, said the denial resulted from an incident that occurred while Dawson was working as a school bus driver in a Nashville suburb. Dawson had written a letter to a young girl saying that God had told him to have sex with her, Walters said.

In 1998, before the Visitor Center was built, two Capitol police officers were fatally shot by a gunman who stormed a security checkpoint inside the Capitol itself. That shooter, Russell Eugene Weston Jr., was wounded and is custody at a federal mental facility.

Monday's incident, which Verderosa said began at 2:39 p.m. EDT, unfolded with Congress on recess and the capital swarming with springtime tourists, and with nearly all lawmakers away on recess.

Hours earlier, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland held two separate meetings with senators in a Senate office building across the street from the visitor center.

The Capitol was on lockdown for about an hour Monday and the White House also was briefly locked down. Police officers, some with drawn automatic weapons, sealed off streets around the Capitol, emergency vehicles were lined up outside and staff members and visitors were rushed into offices and told to shelter in place.

Cathryn Leff, of Temecula, California, in town for discussions with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, said she was going through security at the main entrance to the Capitol Visitors Center when police told people to leave immediately.

Outside, on the plaza just to the east of the Capitol, other officers told people assembled there to "get down behind this wall," she said. "I heard what sounded like two shots off to my left." After a while, police told her and others to keep running. "I felt like I was in a movie. It didn't feel real at all," she said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., issued a statement thanking Capitol Police, as did other congressional leaders. "This evening our thoughts and prayers are with all those who faced danger today," Ryan said.
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